French tennis, or the art of coping with defeat

Gilles Simon helpless against the ardor of Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the first round of Roland Garros, September 29.

That’s it, the dead leaves line the wet asphalt and the refrain is about to resound in the alleys of the Porte d’Auteuil: “There are no more French people at Roland Garros. “ Let’s not speak too quickly, there remains a survivor in the running, Fiona Ferro who, Monday October 5, faces the American Sofia Kenin for a place in the quarterfinals.

Last survivor of the men’s table since 3e tour – a sad first for ten years – the young Hugo Gaston, 239e world, almost overthrown Dominic Thiem in the eighth on Sunday, after Stan Wawrinka in the previous round. The whole of France has taken a liking to the Toulouse elf, his magic paw and his murderous cushionings.

Ultimately, the uninhibited youth (Gaston is 20, Ferro 23) will have given a little warmth to an edition numbed by a pandemic. For the others, the “tauliers”, the results of the Parisian tournament, autumn-winter collection, may again this year have a slight taste of affront to the motherland.

If they do not have the monopoly of defeat, the French know what they are talking about in “Roland”, and more widely in Grand Slam lately. However, to hear them, disgust does not lie in wait for them, nor the use of Prozac.

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Gilles Simon – eliminated Tuesday, September 29 in the first round by Denis Shapovalov – is not really nostalgic for this time when he was in the top 10 (6e world at its best, in 2009). “Maybe I even love my life more than I did back then. I don’t do anything different, I play the same tournaments… ”, ensures the 54e world player. Except that the results are less flattering. When it gravitated around the 15e instead, the Niçois won on average two out of three games. Today, it’s more like one in two matches: “It doesn’t make a big change. “

Parasitic thoughts

Everyone has their own way of digesting the accumulation of defeats. There are those who tie knots in the brain: “In the evening, at night and the next day, there is a lot of frustration, your brain is boiling, says Caroline Garcia (eliminated Sunday in the eighth), questioned like her comrades just before the forced shutdown of the circuit in March due to a pandemic. And then the next day, either it’s a great workout because you’re full of energy, or you’re a little too nervous. Sometimes it gives bad combos, but you try to get off on the right foot. ”

In these cases, she learned to chase away parasitic thoughts:

“You put things flat, you remember what you have already managed to accomplish in your career, you realize that there are not many who have arrived at such a ranking, that it is already unbelievable. “

In this case, a 4e world place in 2018, after entering the inner circle of the women’s circuit at the end of the 2017 season. That fall, the Lyonnaise played the tennis of her life, won two major titles (Wuhan and Beijing), followed up eleven victories, beats four top 15 players and moves up to the top 10 worldwide. Since then, she has gone through a few ups and downs. Starting with this endless series of twelve defeats in a row in the first or second rounds between July and December 2019.

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How not to sink into depression when going through such a black series? “It’s in the tennis player’s mentality, answers Alizé Cornet, exit at 2e tour by the Chinese Shuai Zhang, Porte d’Auteuil. Sometimes we have vicious circles, with a lot of uncertainties and questioning. But not being defeated and quickly returning to coal is the strength of champions. So we keep hanging on, working hard and hoping for the best. ”

Alizé Cornet during her match against the Chinese Zhang Shuai, in the second round of Roland Garros, Thursday October 1st.

She is one of the players who evacuate in the moment. But that was not always the case. “I tended to ruminate a lot more when I was younger, it happened to be twenty-four or forty-eight hours at the lowest, continues the neotentennial, passed professional on the circuit at 16 years old. Now in an hour come on, three hours max I can think of something else ” and to plan for the following week.

“I simply take a step back. At some point, you want to save yourself, to protect yourself, because tennis is a hyper-destructive sport. I don’t want to waste time destroying myself anymore. “

This does not mean, however, that the Niçoise, 11e world in 2009, today 52e, swallowed his pride: “I still loathe defeat as much, but once it’s done it’s done, I can’t go back …”

“The pleasure of playing”

We may be a professional athlete, when we have traveled 9,000 km to compete for a short ride (and then go) sometimes the desire arises to send everything waltz and enjoy the sofa. “When I happen to lose miserably halfway around the world, I sometimes think to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’, concedes Alizé Cornet. It crosses our mind but we are quickly carried by our routine of self-sacrifice and resilience, and we get back to it. “

And we get back to it all the more quickly in view of the guaranteed premiums even in the event of premature departure from the road. At Roland Garros this year, all the players eliminated in the first round thus leave with a check for 60,000 euros.

For his seventeenth “Roland”, Richard Gasquet was released in the first round by Roberto Bautista-Agut.

As cruel as the defeat is, Richard Gasquet swears he will never be subjected to this temptation to stay home. “No, because afterwards I’m going to be there for a long time, at home …”, notes the 34-year-old Biterrois, released in the first round for his seventeenth Roland. There are some who struggle with defeats, not me, I don’t have a monstrous ego for that. What hurts me is being hurt; not being able to play is killing my head. ”

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Operated for an inguinal hernia in January 2019, which left him with a 14 cm scar below the navel, Gasquet believed he would never set foot on the circuit again.

“I told myself that I will never come back. When you have an operation, you are not the same behind. But hey, to do something big in a profession – I’m not saying that I was Federer, far from it, but I was in the top ten for a long time – I think it takes strength of character . “

What still motivates him after nearly twenty years of career and his best years behind him? “I just like to play, it’s stupid but it’s really the pleasure of playing, it does not erode. “ To believe the 50e world, the same love of the game as the Sunday tennis player who would never miss an Interclub match for the world: “Even if it’s professional, I still have this thing, I would play even if I won zero.

Despite the victories and brilliance which are becoming rare. “Even my mother tells me from time to time”stop, now that’s enough ”. But I still want to play a bit. I have no problem planning for the future, I just want to finish well, not on an injury… But no one is irreplaceable, the Gasquet, there will be others. “

That day has not yet arrived, but contrary to what he claims, no one will ever replace Richard Gasquet. Because after all, it’s not all about victory in life.

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